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Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Friends to honor musician Ray John at Oct. 20 benefit


A few days ago, Raymond A. John invited some friends over to his West Street home. They settled onto his deck on the warm fall day, picked up their instruments and began jamming.

Such music is medicine for Mr. John these days.

“When I play for people, I don’t have the pain,” Mr. John said. “I feel a lot better.”

Mr. John, or “Ray John,” as he’s known in north country musical circles, is approaching the fourth stage of renal failure. He says he has only 25 percent use of his kidneys.

On Oct. 9, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bladder. Doctors in Syracuse told him his was one of only three cases they know of in the region.

“When it rains, it pours, right?” Mr. John, 72, said.

Friends figured Mr. John could use a break, so they planned a benefit to be held noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at the North Side Improvement League to assist him with expenses related to his illness and to honor his musical contributions to the community. He has performed at scores of community benefits in his more than 50-year music career, ranging from those aiding the Disabled Persons Action Organization to Midwest flood victims.

“I never expected a benefit for me,” Mr. John said. “I’ve been doing it for everybody else all my life.”

One community member thankful for that dedication is Joseph L. Rich, founder of the DPAO and its retired executive director. Concerts are a mainstay of DPAO’s fundraising.

“Ray always seemed to give us a break when it came to the cost of his performances, which is not done that often anymore,” Mr. Rich said. “If I’m not mistaken, he did one show at no cost. He believed in what we were doing and how we were helping people. He’s a terrific guy.”

Mr. John moved to Watertown with his parents, Arthur L. and Vera John, from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario when he was 3 years old.

“All of my family was musical,” Mr. John said. “We’d all get together and play.”

Mr. John started his first band in 1957 and a year later began playing in area bars with his Rockin’ Angels band. He said it was the first rock ’n’ roll band in the north country.

“I’ve had several different band names because members change and all that,” Mr. John said.

In the early 1960s, it was Ray John and the Cruisers. In the middle ’60s, he fronted Ray John and the Wanderers.

“In the early ’70s, I had problems with the band,” Mr. John said. “They all wanted to try to run it, so I fired everybody and said, ‘I’ll just hire people to play for me.’”

The resulting Ray John Band would become a regular at north country venues until just a few years ago.

When he wasn’t performing music, Mr. John was working as a self-employed roofing, siding and home-improvement contractor.

The Ray John Band has had several members over the years, sustained by Mr. John’s versatility. He plays six instruments, but prefers the guitar and keyboard. He performs all types of music and plans to attend Sunday’s benefit and perform as the Ray John Band.

“I can do old country, new country, classic rock and roll and popular music,” Mr. John said. “It doesn’t matter — whatever it calls for to make people happy.”

Mr. John’s talent caught the attention of the manager of country star Waylon Jennings in the 1980s.

“His manager just happened to be here in Watertown,” Mr. John said. “I was at Benny’s (Steakhouse) and he saw me. He called me over to his table, at the end of my first set. He already had a contract made out for me.”

But Mr. John declined the offer.

“I was already building my house. I was working days and playing six nights a week,” he said.

He has no regrets.

“I didn’t want to go to that big scene,” he said. “I just wanted to play for people around here, my friends and help the community.”

the details
WHAT: Benefit for musician Ray John. Featured entertainment will be by Fred & the Eds and the Dawg Brothers. There also will be a live auction, a silent auction, raffles and food.
WHEN/WHERE: Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at the North Side Improvement League, 633 Mill St.
COST: Requested donation is $5.
MORE INFO: Contact Juanita Soluri at 767-3934.
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